Writing as a former copper…

Apologies for the late post, but a funeral, and the attendant contemplation of mortality and one’s place in the world rather ate up any creative spark I may have had drifting to embers on my return last night. But, the joy of being freelance is that you still get to work, even when you could really do with a personal day, as I believe the TeeVee shows call it.

So, without any further self-pity, on to today’s subject; Writing as a copper, or former copper. There are a double fistful of superb police blogs who guard their secret identity more thoroughly than SpiderMan, and for good reason. Remember the NightJack fiasco?

I can understand why those serving want to keep their names out of the press, and I abandoned my own blog when a skipper at the time took one look at the material, one look at my CRIS reports, and told me, in no uncertain terms that he had worked out I was the one writing this, and I ought to stop, thanks awfully. And that was the end of my public writing while still a warranted constable.

But now, with my spurs hung up, and close to a decade of fighting the good fight in the heart of the capital, why do I find the idea of writing crime seizes up my fingers and sets my mind to absolutely anything else but crime, or police procedural? I know it’s possible, because I just finished the excellent Post Mortem by Kate London, and it is possibly the most police-y police book imaginable. I heartily recommend.

But, the same problem exists with turning police work into a satisfying read. Real life isn’t. Real life has no narrative, hinges on the most improbable coincidences, and motivation to do unspeakable things is rarely, almost never, explicable.

For those in the job, past or present, I want to run a little experiment: If you have ever had a job that made sense, in a way that could be explained to a member of the public, in a solid narrative, then let me know in the comments below.

I certainly haven’t. I have had jobs that were understandable in the rarefied world of police work, and jobs that made sense in the sad, broken way of desperate people who have made a decision that they can’t, or won’t row back from. I have had jobs that can be written up in such a way that twelve rate-paying souls will understand enough to dismiss reasonable doubt – even with the Snaresbrook home turf advantage. But jobs that would make a good book? Not so much.

And, every police procedural novel, movie, or TV series is, by necessity, untrue. The actual procedures we use are, if not secret, then stultifying dull, or nonsensical. The way we catch villains depends far more on the sort repetitive grinding out of evidence towards a predetermined outcome that would better suit an MMO than a book. Either that, or the kind of hideous coincidence that would be laughed out of a Mike Hammer novel. Real life has a tendency towards the violently improbable, and it doesn’t suit fiction one little bit.

I think that’s why I went for Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy; genre works that allow me to drop in piecemeal chunks of what I did and what I saw, without actually getting into the nitty-gritty of a full police investigation. Because they are Not Good Source Material, in my opinion. That, and the tendency among crime for a celebration of the gruesome.

The worst offenders for this are the Dexter series of books, and anything Thomas Harris, Ludlum, Patricia Cornell, or all the other folk who seem to have an unhealthy fascination with making their antag as sexy-cool as they possibly can.

I’ve never had any dealings with serial killers, but I have dealt with a fair few sociopaths – on both sides of the interview table – in my time. Without exception, they are not chilling masters of manipulation. They are twats. I had one, during my brief attachment to Sapphire, as then was, who thought he was the arch genius of the books, and wanted to play the “I’m cleverer than you, officer” game. It did not go well for him. I have never physically beaten up a suspect, for obvious reasons, but I did take that assclown to pieces. Every clever asides he thought he could get away with, I dismantled and scattered the pieces all over his diminished self-image.  By the time we dropped him back into the ‘Ville, he was half the size, and mumbling into his socks. Fuck him and the notion he was smart.

I’ve never, ever gone for that savage a takedown, and probably never will again, but I had sat in on the ABE of his victim, and, well, I slept well that night.

Good grief, I’ve rather got off topic, haven’t I? The point of all that is that the notion of a charming, chilling sociopath is nonsense. There are sociopaths who fit all those clichés, but they become CEOs or surgeons, not serial killers. Serial killers are the failed stated of sociopathy, in the same way murderers are the failure state of citizens. None of them deserve glamorisation, and none deserve to be the subject of books.

Which is why I want to write a crime novel without a murder. Or, at least, without a woman being killed and displayed for nothing more than an inciting event. It is, after all, International Woman’s Day, and the literal least we can do, as creators of stories, if give women a greater role than that of bloody prop.



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